On Monday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder topped the Dallas Mavericks in a midseason thriller that reminded of the close back-and-forth basketball we saw when these two teams met in the Western Conference finals last spring. The Thunder were aggressors throughout, and earned 23 more free-throw attempts as a result. The Mavs, as you'd expect, were not happy with that disparity, thinking that Dirk Nowitzki should have earned far more than the three freebies he was awarded. To say nothing of a tough call against Mavs center Ian Mahinmi late in the fourth quarter.
Jason Kidd, for one, is being portrayed as someone that thinks the Mavs should earn those coin flip calls as a byproduct of winning the championship in 2011. We're not on board with him, but we're also not totally sure that this is what he was attempting to complain about when he was quoted, by ESPN Dallas, as saying this:
"We don't get the benefit of the whistle," Kidd said. "I don't think we're looked upon as champions, but that's a whole other story."
That is a whole other story. It's a little unfair, it's to be expected, and it's accurate. It's a function of Dallas' relatively strange run to the 2011 championship.
The Mavericks were regarded as a championship hopeful entering last year's playoffs only as an "anything can happen if the matchups are right in a seven-game series"-candidate. And for four series' in a row the matchups were correct. Dallas' depth and quick-thinking paired with its talent and Dirk Nowitzki to wreak havoc, and the team took in a well-earned championship.
The idea of the Mavs as contenders, however, only lasted for a few weeks after they swept the defending champs out of Los Angeles in the second round, and until the lockout hit in July. Defensive stalwart center Tyson Chandler left as soon as teams were able to start dealing again in December, and as a result the new defending champs looked quite a bit different as they entered 2011-12. Toss in a few blowout losses early in the season, sluggish runs from Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom, and Kidd's decline, and the Mavs are right back where they were last year. A championship contender, only because anything can happen if the matchups are right in a seven-game series.
To read Kidd's frustrations as some sort of demand for referee-based payback following the 2011 title? To paraphrase Jason, that's a whole other story. We're not ready to take him like that, because while he's seen Jordan and Kobe and Wade and the Spurs get call after call following their title runs during his nearly 20-year career, Kidd also knows that refs aren't thinking (in a split-second flash) about counting da ringz every time an All-Star makes a quick dash to the hoop.
It seems like the frustration has more to do with how we as fans and paid analysts are regarding teams like the Heat, the Chicago Bulls, and especially the Oklahoma City Thunder as champs in waiting; before they've won a damn thing. It was a long road for Kidd on his way to his first title, through three teams not including two runs with the Mavs; and yet the Thunder and Heat (two teams the Mavericks downed last summer) are being regarded as near-locks for the Finals in June (with Chicago as a potential wild card) even with an on-paper defending champion in Dallas still functioning.
That can't be easy, to be denied that deserved honeymoon. And midway through a frustrating season, with both the season's tip-off and the start of the postseason seemingly ages away, it's understandable that Kidd would kvetch after a tough loss to those Thunder upstarts in a game featuring plenty of calls that could have gone either way. To take this as literally as "Jason Kidd thinks the Mavs should get more free throws because they won 16 postseason games between April and June of 2011" is a bit much.
(Though Jason would probably go along with that. Every point counts, right?)
Even in a strange, truncated 66-game season, the playoffs tend to cure all ails. It's as if nothing makes sense until then. And, for a player that has been working in this league since 1994, and playing deep into spring many of those years since, nobody understands this better than Jason Kidd. Why we're already anointing the Thunder and Heat boggles his mind.
Though not ours. Have you seen the Thunder and Heat this year? Or the Bulls, even?
It's an unorthodox pattern, Jason, but you got a ring out of it. Save your bullets and you might just get another one this June.
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